Empowering the Office with Apps

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The novelty of mobile apps has long since faded but their usefulness and functionality is ever increasing with more advance and creative apps being developed every day. Creative apps are not just limited to the big app stores but can also come directly from developers to businesses bypassing the app stores all together.

These apps can streamline processes and naturally enable mobility within an organisation. Some business apps have broader appeal for example providing mobile versions of larger desktop applications other apps have a much more niche appeal and will need to be custom built for its use.

Microsoft has announced a new tool called PowerApps for creating apps, not aimed at developers but anyone familiar with their hugely popular office suite.

The apps created will run on all mobile platforms including Android, iOS and of course Windows Phone.

The tool aimed at businesses, using an office-like interface including the ribbon to create apps to make office life easier. These can be published from the application and then access via an intranet link on other employee’s smartphones, tablets of PCs.

PowerApps has now launched on the Windows Store as a free download and requires a Office 365 account to login. Click here to download.

Lots to shout about at Microsoft’s Autumn NY Windows 10 event

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This week Microsoft held its Windows 10 device event showcasing their latest and greatest for both consumers and enterprise.

• The event kick started with their entertainment platform Xbox, with Windows 10 coming to Xbox One later this year. It brings improved user experience, performance and the ability to run their previous generation of software which has been their most requested feature since launch.

• Next was a new HoloLens demo: the presenter used a new hand held controller whilst wearing the device and battled augmented reality robots live on stage. Visually this was very impressive for an untethered device (ie. Not connected to a PC).  After this the development kit was announced for Q1 2016 with a price tag of $3000.

• The focus then was on fitness with the unveiling of Microsoft Band 2. The new band features a sleeker design with curved screen and new Barometer which measures elevation for more accurate “caloric burn” readings.

• Multiple Microsoft phone announcements followed with the Lumia 550, 950 and 950XL. The two 950’s were the real attention grabbers and feature high performance with liquid cooling and twin antenna for greater connectivity.  Continuum (connecting Windows 10 phone to keyboard and screen through a dock + mouse to use as a PC.  USB memory sticks and hard drives can also be used and in this mode the interface looks and feels like any other PC, at the same time the phone can still be used as a phone.

• From phones to tablets, Surface was next. The Surface Pro 4 us announced with a larger screen, without increasing the size of the device, thanks to smaller bezels. The new Surface is also thinner, more powerful and with better battery life.  Also included is a more advanced stylus with 1-year battery and a new improved, but still optional keyboard with bigger trackpad, separated keys and a fingerprint scanner. These new accessories can also be used with last year’s Surface Pro 3.

• Next Microsoft borrowed the Apple “one more thing..” to announced a new product entirely called the Surface Book. This device is a premium laptop, which you can also rip the screen off to use as a tablet. The base also contains additional computing and graphic processing adding up to 2x the performance of a Mac Book Pro.

All in all, Microsoft announced a lot this week in New York and won the attention and rare applause of their sceptical industry audience . Microsoft is now selling a very compelling ecosystem of not just software and services but also hardware tailored to both. It has a tremendous battle ahead with its rivals, but they have certainly put their best foot forwards to bring genuine intrigue and excitement which was arguably lacking from many recent tech events by Microsoft, Google and Apple.

Microsoft gives founder of Acompli the reigns to Outlook

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In December 2014 Microsoft acquired mobile software developer Acompli for $200 million who had developed very popular and critically acclaimed email clients for iOS and Android. Shortly after the purchase Microsoft rebranded these to “Outlook” keeping the functionality and compatibility to other mail providers that critics originally praised.

The rebranded Outlook app has also seen critical success under Microsoft and Microsoft own Windows 10 mobile app currently in development shows signs of its inspiration.

Microsoft announced this week that Javier Soltero the founder of Acompli has been officially but in charge of Outlook on all platforms, including the web, smart phone, tablets and most importantly PCs.

Before Microsoft purchase Acompli Javier was used to a team of less than 75 so being put in charge of one of Microsoft most used applications must be a daunting task.

With the great critical praise and innovative design shown thus far, Javier lead versions of Outlook in the future is definitely one to watch. We are likely to see mobile only features such as the focused inbox make the jump to desktops and we are likely to see new innovations that only make sense with the larger screen real estate on the PC.

As interesting as this is for the future of Outlook, it is as interesting for Microsoft itself, Microsoft is showing they recognise great, unique talent, even if from outside the company until recently and letting them lead large and established products that may otherwise face complacency. Of course with any leadership shift this does introduce new risks but taking the opportunity to crucial to grow in a hugely competitive field.

This week’s technology news – 17th April 2014

Microsoft’s enterprise cloud gets EU seal of approval
Data protection news stories have been pretty gloomy over the past few months, so it makes a refreshing change for the subject to have a good news day. This follows confirmation by the EU’s data protection authorities that Microsoft’s enterprise cloud contracts meet their rigorous high standards of privacy law, no matter where the data is located. Enshrined in Microsoft’s contractual commitments to its customers, they can be assured of moving data freely through their cloud from Europe to the rest of the world. It marks a positive first step and Microsoft will be building on this as they expand legal protections wider, to benefit all enterprise customers. The thorny subject of geolocation of data rapidly becomes less of a headache for MS customers, especially given the EU’s threat of suspending the Safe Harbour Agreement with the US which will have impact for Microsoft’s competition, whilst their security net will prevent any curtailment or interruption globally.

Scotland takes the lead in going green
At a time when the national grid is anticipating a squeeze on energy and supplies are becoming more limited, the UK is getting its first fully green datacentre to be built in Summer 2014 in Fife, Scotland. The £40m green datacentre backed by AOC Group will span 75,000ft2 and be powered by renewable energy, drawing power from the UK’s largest biomass plant at Markinch, Fife. It will be built to a BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method) standard (which aims to minimise buildings’ environmental impact by ensuring sustainability best practices and reduce operator costs through energy-efficiency). The green datacentre will have a power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of less than 1.15 (against a typical datacentre average PUE of 2.5). This means that for every 2.5 watts in at the utility meter, only one watt is delivered out to the IT load. Uptime Institute estimates that most facilities could achieve 1.6 PUE using the most efficient equipment and best practices. The new carrier-neutral datacentre will accommodate up to 1,500 high-performance computer racks and will offer high levels of resilience and data security, according to AOC Group. With pressure on carbon emissions, datacentre managers are having to devise new approaches to datacentre cooling as future demands will only increase and consumers will have little tolerance for downtime.

Microsoft puts the squeeze on Windows 8.1
As Microsoft continues to tackle the modern computing and tablet markets, one of their biggest obstacles has been providing only high storage devices. The bestselling iPad, is the lowest 16GB model and for Android, price wins too, with even lower storage such as 8GB being the best sellers. Currently 32GB is the lowest sized Windows tablet you can buy, and this is one of the reasons why Windows tablets are at the top end of the market. If you compare like-for-like, Microsoft’s tablets like the Surface 2 do well but when compared directly to competition best sellers with lower storage capacities (like iPad, Google Nexus and Amazon Kindle Fire), Microsoft ends up looking pricey. To combat this Microsoft has been working hard to get Windows 8.1 running on 16GB devices. The solution has been not to cut features, but utilise a technology first mentioned during Vista development called WIM. The WIM sits on its own partition in a compressed state and moves data across as it is needed. With these smaller device sizes and the lack of Windows fees for physically smaller devices, small Windows Tablets should get more affordable soon.

Wearables but without the plug
A lot of industry analysts agree that wearables will be the next big thing in the technology space. Sony, Samsung and Google have all now heavily invested and Apple is rumoured to be producing their iWatch. The biggest problem faced is something little that is needed: small batteries. Because the miniature size of the devices limit the size of the battery to power them and the complex task they are being asked to do, wearable technology typically lasts between just 0.5 days – to several days. Being advertised as something you wear which you have to remove to re-charge then re-attach so frequently, will be a showstopper for many. Researchers from the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology amongst others, are currently developing a system to generate electricity using your own body heat, with a new light and flexible generator made from thermo-electric substances printed on glass fabric. This technology could be the breakthrough wearables need to become mainstream – letting you wear a gadget like you would an item of jewellery and never having to plug in to re-charge suddenly becomes appealing.

Amicus ITS weekly technology news – Easter Edition

Windows Store V Mac App Store
This week the Windows Store hit over 50,000 published downloadable Apps on Windows 8 and RT. Although this number is smaller compared to the app stores for smart phones, it is definitely worth noting that the Mac App Store launched in January 2011 currently has only around 16,000 Apps. Microsoft is effectively beating Apple at its own game!. What comes of the future from Microsoft and Apples ecosystem?

Continued growth in mobile browser usage
Web browsing on phones and tablets has tripled in the last two years, and doubled over the last 12 months. Apple’s Safari leads all mobile traffic with over 50%, people are using iOS much more for web searching than other mobile platforms. Although other browsers including Chrome and Safari are available on the iOS app store they are in reality just Safari re-skinned. The importance of information being quick and easy to find on a mobile browser is more important than ever! Is your website user friendly enough on a mobile, or are you potentially ignoring this new growing sector of ’mobile on the go’ users?

USB’s and IT Professionals
At the recent RSA conference, more than three-quarters of IT professionals admitted to breaching their own protocols and plugging in USB flash drives that they found abandoned or lying around! There are a number of ways to prevent this as an organisation, as a starting point, we would suggest educating your staff against this. Why not supply your staff with encrypted USB sticks which can be regularly checked for malware, or you could use software which restricts USB devices. However you choose to address this issue, you should be aware and actively trying to reduce or restrict it.

Cyber Attacks
You might have heard about the recent major cyber attacks, firstly the attack that South Korea has accused China of starting (potentially falsely) and then a row between a spam-fighting group and a hosting firm. Cyber attacks on national infrastructure remains a top concern. In the US, President Barack Obama has recently signed a cyber security executive order requiring federal agencies to share cyber threat information with private companies. Security experts are voicing concerns about the choice of targets for the recent cyber attacks which suggest that an attack that could put a nation into jeopardy could happen. The Cyberbunker attack is said to be on an unprecedented scale and has been continuing for well over a week with five national cyber police forces currently investigating. Whilst this highlights some potential gaps in the security, organisations need to remain vigilant in their search of indicators of compromise on their networks.

Have a happy Easter !

Your first stop for this week’s MSP news in technology

MDM? Not without MSP’s help  

Even though the BYOD trend is gaining significant momentum, some organisations are still refraining from implementation.  Adopting MDM requires investment in technology, training, staffing and policy creation, meaning organisations can’t justify the funding.  However we believe there is a solution to this problem; introducing MDM through a managed service provider.  MSP’s can offer all the MDM benefits including 24×7 managed support, but save customers time as well as costs.  This will allow even small businesses to work more mobile.

Looking into the future in the Tablet market

The big three: Microsoft, Google and Apple are now all runners in the tablet market share race.  In recent months Apple has seen its sales decrease due to the increased popularity of cheaper Google devices. At this pace we may see Android over take Apple in Q2 2013. As Microsoft’s devices have only been on the market for less than a quarter, we are expecting a slow and steady uptake.  As more devices and apps come over to Microsoft’s new platform next year, we predict the market will shift.

‘Appy’ Christmas

Microsoft has announced that their Windows Phone app developers will be hard at work this festive season.  Since the launch of Windows Phone 8, mobile app requests have increased by 40%, seeing a recent surge in the last couple of weeks.  However, some companies refuse to jump on the bandwagon. Google have declared they have no plans to develop apps for either Windows Phone 8 or Windows 8. We believe that Google might be missing a trick.  As Windows 8 adoption grows momentum in 2013, we are predicting Microsoft’s app store will take off in a big way, enabling both a consumer and a corporate environment.

Microsoft release Cloud Deployment programme

Microsoft has released a new Cloud Deployment programme designed at educating partners as to how they can get the most out of Office 365.  Organisations have currently been viewing the Cloud as a threat to their security rather than an instrument for success.  With Microsoft’s latest partner programme, MSP’s will be able to offer management tools and expertise to help consumers understand the Cloud.  We believe that this will give MSP’s the opportunity to add value to the Cloud, helping customers with its set up and running.

This week’s news from the MD of Amicus ITS

Let’s end the confusion on Windows 8  

Since the launch of Windows 8, consumers have been primarily focused on the impact Microsoft’s latest OS will have on mobility. Although this plays an important role, the other key components of Windows 8 must also be explored.  Next week Amicus ITS are holding a Windows 8 event at Microsoft’s HQ in Reading, to demonstrate all of its offerings.  The event will feature what Windows 8 can offer to the corporate world through demonstrations, as well as explaining how to effectively manage a mobile work environment. 

Top Malware trends of 2013

With the recent increase in global security breaches, MSP mentor have revealed the top malware trends of 2013.  Trends for 2013 include; increased attacks on Google Chrome, malware that has the capability to invade virtual machines, and the introduction of native 64-bit Windows malware.  We believe organisations need to take a good look at what procedures are currently implemented and what they need to change.  

Mobility brings big changes to the market

The release of Microsoft’s latest device, the Surface Pro, is just around the corner.  As more and more users are taking advantage of mobility and connectivity on-the-go, we think the market is set to change.  Consumers now want to accomplish more with their tablet, performing the same tasks (including Word and Excel) that they could in the office. However, this doesn’t just refer to devices; applications play a large part too.  As users turn to alternative online communications tools, such as free messaging and email, SMS messaging has seen its first decline since mobile phones began.

 SME’s need to embrace the Cloud  

Gartner have recently suggested that Cloud Computing is set to be one of the biggest trends of 2013, and with a vast amount of SME’s yet to embrace the cloud, there is still great opportunity for growth.  The Cloud offers numerous benefits for SME’s, including cost effectiveness, operational efficiencies and scalability.  We believe that with clear education and a protected security procedure put in place, Cloud Computing can change not only large corporations but SME’s as well.